15 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Started Out on Soap Operas

YouTube
YouTube

Daytime soap operas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but there was a time when soon-to-be movie stars regularly honed their skills with the kind of over-the-top emotional melodrama that you can only find on daytime television. Here are 15 of them.

1. TOMMY LEE JONES

From 1971 to 1975, Tommy Lee Jones played the suave Dr. Mark Toland on One Life to Live. Throughout his four-year run, Jones’s character became less stable and more evil, transforming from an affable M.D. to a shifty con artist. Dr. Toland was eventually shot in the head, freeing Jones up to pursue a career in movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, JFK, No Country for Old Men, and The Fugitive, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994.

2. JULIANNE MOORE

In 1985, Julianne Moore got her big break on As The World Turns, where she played the dual role of half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes, and earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series for her efforts in 1988. She left As The World Turns for a career on Broadway later that year. "I gained confidence and learned to take responsibility," Julianne Moore said of her time working in daytime television. She returned to As The World Turns in a very brief cameo appearance during the soap opera’s final season in 2010. Earlier this year, the five-time Oscar nominee became a bona fide Oscar winner for her work in Still Alice.

3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

One year before he landed a recurring role on Growing Pains in 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on NBC's Santa Barbara. He played the young Mason Capwell in only one episode, but moved on to make appearances on Roseanne and the short-lived sitcom Parenthood. In 1993, DiCaprio landed his first two starring roles on the big-screen in This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which earned him his first of five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture as one of the producers of The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014.

4. WILLIAM H. MACY

While he started his acting career on the stage with playwright David Mamet, William H. Macy made an appearance on Another World in 1982. He played the character Frank Fisk and was credited as “W.H. Macy.” Macy later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his breakout performance in Fargo.

5. MARISA TOMEI

After attending Boston University for only one year, Marisa Tomei landed a recurring role on As The World Turns in 1983. She played ditzy teen Marcy Thompson, who married a prince, Lord Stewart Cushing, and moved to England, where she became Lady Marcy Cushing. Tomei left As The World Turns in 1985 when she received a series regular role on the sitcom A Different World in 1987.

6. ELLEN BURSTYN

Although Ellen Burstyn began her acting career on Broadway in 1957, she also worked on television throughout the 1960s. She starred as Dr. Kate Bartok on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1964. At the time, she was credited as "Ellen McRae,” but changed her name when she married actor/writer Neil Burstyn. Since making the transition to films, Burstyn has received six Oscar nominations, beginning with 1971's The Last Picture Show and most recently for 2000's Requiem for a Dream (she won in 1975, for Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)

7. JAMES EARL JONES

At age 35, James Earl Jones appeared as two separate doctors in two different daytime soaps in 1966. First he played Dr. Jerry Turner on As The World Turns and then he played Dr. Jim Frazier on Guiding Light. Five years later, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Great White Hope.

8. MELISSA LEO

Melissa Leo made her on-screen debut as Linda Warner on All My Children in 1984. Leo remained a cast member until 1988, when she took a role on the short-lived TV Western The Young Riders. Leo later pursued a career in film, where she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2009 for Frozen River and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Fighter two years later. 

9. KEVIN KLINE

After establishing a traveling acting company during the early 1970s, Kevin Kline settled in New York City and appeared as the character Woody Reed on the now-defunct Search For Tomorrow on CBS in 1976. He later left the daytime soap for a career on Broadway and eventually on the big screen, where he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for the comedy A Fish Called Wanda.

10. NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts’s career began on television in Australia during the early 1990s. She appeared in a number of sitcoms and commercials before landing a recurring role on the daytime soap Home and Away in 1991. Ten years later, she made her mark on Hollywood with her breakout role in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Since then, she has received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her work in  2003's 21 Grams and 2012's The Impossible.  

11. SUSAN SARANDON

At the beginning of her career, Susan Sarandon spent two years on two different daytime soaps. In 1971, she appeared as Patrice Kahlman on the short-lived A World Apart, then landed a role as Sarah Fairbanks on Search for Tomorrow the following year. She left daytime television to appear in Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of The Front Page in 1974 and played Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show a year later. Of the five Oscar nominations Sarandon has received throughout her career, she has won one: Best Actress in 1995's Dead Man Walking.

12. BRAD PITT

In 1987, Brad Pitt made a two-episode appearance as Chris, a basketball playing teen, on Another World. Later that year, he landed a meatier recurring role on the primetime soap Dallas. Brad Pitt eventually gained Hollywood stardom as J.D. in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance as the deranged Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys in 1996. Of his five Oscar nominations, Pitt has only one once—in 2014 for Best Picture as a producer of 12 Years a Slave

13. MORGAN FREEMAN

During the early 1980s, Morgan Freeman appeared on two daytime soap operas before taking up a career in movies. In 1981, he played Cicero Murphy on Ryan’s Hope. The following year, he landed the role of Dr. Roy Bingham on Another World, where he remained for two years. Throughout his career, Freeman has been nominated for five Academy Awards; in 2005, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.

14. KATHY BATES

In 1977, Kathy Bates made her TV debut on The Doctors. In 1984, she appeared on All My Children as Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) cellmate Belle Bodelle. Though her stint on the latter was short, her story arc as a frightening and crazy prison inmate was memorable among fans—and might very well have prepared her for her Oscar-winning turn as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery.

15. ALEC BALDWIN

Before he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Cooler in 2003, Alec Baldwin started his professional acting career on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1980. He played Billy Aldrich, a character who was killed by two separate men, unbeknownst to each other, at the same time. Baldwin left The Doctors in 1982 and in 1984 landed a recurring role on the primetime soap Knots Landing.

20 Surprising Facts About Pulp Fiction

Miramax
Miramax

On October 14, 1994, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was released in theaters in America and a new Hollywood auteur was born. In addition to teaching Americans what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is called in Europe, the film reignited the career of John Travolta (who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work) and showed audiences a different side of Bruce Willis. In honor of the film's anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Pulp Fiction.

1. THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN SOUTH KOREA, JAPAN, AND EVEN SLOVAKIA BEFORE IT ARRIVED IN AMERICA.

Tarantino’s film first played the Cannes Film Festival in May 1994. It was shown at other festivals around the world, from Munich to Locarno, before hitting American shores on September 23, 1994, at the New York Film Festival. The film was released in South Korea, Japan, and Slovakia before it officially opened in the U.S. on October 14, 1994. The feature rolled out across Asia and Europe throughout 1994 and 1995.

2. HONEY BUNNY WAS NAMED AFTER AN ACTUAL RABBIT.

Honey Bunny belonged to Linda Chen, who typed up Tarantino's handwritten script for Pulp Fiction. In lieu of payment, she asked Tarantino to watch her rabbit when she went on location; Tarantino wouldn't do it, and when the rabbit later died, he named Amanda Plummer's character after Chen's pet.

3. YOU CAN WATCH THE FILM CHRONOLOGICALLY ... KIND OF.

The narrative structure of the film plays out of sequence, but it’s easy enough to break it down into seven distinct sections (a prologue, an epilogue, two preludes, and three large segments) that can then be re-ordered into a chronological narrative (Hint: The first prelude, to the “Gold Watch” section, plays first. If that doesn’t help, here’s an infographic).

4. THE FILM CONTAINS 265 “F WORDS.”

Even that hefty number isn’t Tarantino’s highest (1992’s Reservoir Dogs used it 269 times). Still, the film was the big “f word” winner of 1994, as no other film released that year even came close to that amount of profanity.

5. VINCENT VEGA’S 1964 CHEVELLE MALIBU WAS STOLEN AFTER THE SHOOT.

John Travolta’s character in the film had a sweet ride—which, in real life, belonged to Tarantino—and it was such a hot rod that it was stolen soon after the film’s release. It wasn’t found for nearly two decades, when two cops happened on a pair of kids stripping an older car. After running the Vehicle Identification Number, they found it shared the number with a car in Oakland, which turned out to be Tarantino’s car.

6. THE MOVIE COST ONLY $8.5 MILLION TO MAKE.

Five million went to the actors’ salaries. It made that all back in its first week at the U.S. box office (the film pulled in $9.3 million the first weekend of release).

7. THE FILM WAS THE THIRD BIGGEST R-RATED EARNER OF 1994.

The film lost out on the title to True Lies ($146.2 million) and Speed ($121.2 million). The film’s earnings were strong enough to place it in the overall top 10 for the year, though 1994 was dominated by Forrest Gump, which made $329.6 million that year.

8. EVEN THOUGH THE FILM MADE OVER $100 MILLION, IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO GET THERE.

Even though Tarantino’s film ended up being a tremendous hit—especially considering that slim budget—it took some time to get there. The film was in release for 178 days before it finally pulled in 100 million domestic dollars. A little comparison? It took Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 only two days.

9. VINCENT VEGA WAS WRITTEN FOR MICHAEL MADSEN ...

Tarantino specifically wrote a number of roles in the film for chosen actors (including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer), but nothing compared to his dedication to having Michael Madsen play Vince. Madsen, who knew of Tarantino’s plans and said he wanted to do the part, dropped out two weeks before the script was finished to star in Wyatt Earp.

10. ... WHICH COULD HAVE MADE HIM MR. BLONDE’S TWIN.

Tarantino has a long tradition of connecting characters in his various films—basically, the filmmaker is working with a number of sprawling family trees, and it’s always a treat to see how characters intersect—which would have made Madsen’s casting of Vince come with a surprising twist: it might have made him Mr. Blonde’s (Madsen’s character from Reservoir Dogs) twin, as it’s long been known that Vince and Blonde are brothers.

11. IT INSPIRED TOP GEAR’S STIG.

The mysterious, anonymous Stig was inspired by the mysterious, anonymous Gimp. The Gimp was even the original name for the Stig, until they couldn’t find a racing driver willing to use that name.

12. BUTCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOT YOUNGER.

Tarantino wrote the part as a young boxer, with Matt Dillon specifically in mind for the role, but when the actor took too much time considering the part, it was tweaked slightly to accommodate Bruce Willis (who was a little ticked that he wasn’t asked to play Vincent).

13. TARANTINO LOVES VINTAGE BOARD GAMES, AND IT SHOWS.

The filmmaker is an avid board game collector, which is why the film features Operation and The Game of Life. Tarantino convinced Travolta to come on board with an all-day Welcome Back, Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever board game marathon.

14. VINCENT’S PREFERRED READING MATERIAL IS REAL.

Vince loves reading pulp fiction books during his, ahem, private time, including Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, a real pulp fiction novel based on O’Donnell’s '60s comic strip. Tarantino has long expressed interest in bringing that tale to the big screen, including giving his official license to the 2003 film (Quentin Tarantino Presents) My Name is Modesty.

15. DESPITE TARANTINO’S LOVE FOR UMA THURMAN, SHE WASN’T HIS FIRST PICK.

Other possible Mias? Isabella Rossellini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Meg Ryan, Alfre Woodard, Halle Berry, Daryl Hannah, Rosanna Arquette, Joan Cusack, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Tarantino’s original favorite was supposedly Pfeiffer.

16. THE ORIGINAL POSTER CAN FETCH YOU SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS.

The first poster had Thurman smoking from a box of Lucky Strike cigarettes—but Miramax hadn’t licensed usage rights from Lucky Strikes, who threatened to sue. Rather than fight it, Miramax had the posters returned. Those that survived can now command big money.

17. JULES MAY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FOR SAMUEL L. JACKSON, BUT HE ALMOST LOST THE PART.

Tarantino very much had Jackson in mind for the role of Jules, but when he auditioned Paul Calderon, he was so struck by the performance that he very nearly hired him. Jackson, desperate to get “his” role back, flew to Los Angeles and auditioned for Tarantino again.

18. CAPTAIN KOONS MIGHT HAVE A FAMOUS RELATIVE.

Well, famous in the Tarantino universe, anyway: It’s widely believed that Christopher Walken’s Captain Koons is a descendent of Django Unchained character Crazy Craig Koons, who is only mentioned by name in a Wanted poster.

19. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED PARTS OF THE FILM.

When Tarantino is on screen as Jimmie, someone else had to be behind the camera—and that someone was Robert Rodriguez. The pair later teamed up for a number of other projects, including From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.

20. TRAVOLTA DIDN’T REALLY INJECT THURMAN IN THAT SCENE.

The infamous scene in which Mia is stabbed with a very necessary adrenaline shot was stressful enough, so Tarantino took off some of the pressure: the needle was inserted, and then Travolta pulled it out. The scene was reversed in post-production so it looks as if Vincent Vega really is plunging that syringe into her. Movie magic!

Additional Sources: Short List; Box Office Mojo (1, 2)

This article originally ran in 2015.

Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. THE FUTURE OF ANIMATED PEANUTS SPECIALS DEPENDED ON IT.  


Warner Home Video

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS changed their mind and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.   

2. THE VOICE OF VIOLET PUKED AFTER EVERY RECORDING SESSION.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME LUCY SNATCHED THE FOOTBALL FROM CHARLIE BROWN.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. IT’S SECRETLY ABOUT SANTA.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. THE MUSIC COMPOSER WAS FOUND NAKED BY COPS.


Warner Home Video

The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.  

6. A LISP ALMOST RUINED THE SHOW.

Kathy Steinberg was only four years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.  

7. KIDS SENT CHARLIE BROWN CANDY FOR YEARS.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. THE ORIGINAL AIRINGS WERE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out. 

9. CBS GOT A LITTLE SALTY ABOUT LOSING THE RIGHTS.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety

10. SOME SCHOLARS THOUGHT THE GREAT PUMPKIN WAS REAL.


Warner Home Video

A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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